Look hard at closing St. Lawrence Seaway

While the formal rejection this week of the concept of expanding the St. Lawrence Seaway is cause for celebration, that decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should not be the end of the discussion about that man-made channel for ocean going vessels.

Dan Egan, the environmental writer for the Milwaukee JournalSentinel who has done more for sounding the alarm about the condition of the Great Lakes than any other American, reported recently that there are now nine trillion quagga mussels lining the floor of the five lakes. They are starving indigenous fish species as they devour the plankton food base. They have decimated the fishery. The last commercial fishermen have pulled out of Milwaukee.

These mussels came through the St. Lawrence Seaway in contaminated ballast water ejected from the ocean freighters, along with an estimated 160 other new species.

The damage to the fishery can only be calculated in the billions of dollars annually.

On the other hand, no one has successfully disputed this finding; the ocean vessel traffic made possible by the Seaway saves only $55 million annually compared to other forms of transportation.  With only a little extra cost, their cargo could be put aboard trucks or trains to move it inland from the east coast.

Only 5% of the ship traffic on the Great Lakes is ocean-going. The rest is domestic to the U.S. and Canada.

Let’s do the math and the economic logic: billions of dollars of damage annually from the invasive species against a few millions of dollars in transportation savings. The answer is obvious:

Congress should immediately order an analysis on the closing of the Seaway. Don’t wait for the slow-moving, often-wrong Corps to do it. Do it now.

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  • Tim Nixon

    This is an interest point on which I have not spent much time. My first thought, however, is the question of whether we are closing the barn door after the horse is out.

  • Gracefull211

    I have a degree in Natural Resources, and I admit I have put little research into this subject. However, I agree with Mr. Tim Nixon, closing pandora’s box is rather useless after it’s already been opened–that isn’t a fix at all–let alone a “fix all” as seems to be implied. Also, I have to wonder what the title “Green and Gold” is about? Moving cargo on trucks and trains is hardly green, and it seems to me no opportunity cost is apparent in this blog… We wouldn’t forgo other cargo to be transported–we would simply add more traffic to our roads and more railroad cars to our trains–requiring more demand on fuel. Also, the argument seems rather strawman, unsupported, and omitting of confounding variables. If the 55 million in savings you speak of is strictly fuel, I think you are forgetting the supply and demand model and what would happen to the rest of the fuel market.

    I agree perhaps a good look at closing St. Lawrence Seaway should be taken, but not on the premise of your argument exactly… Especially with a misleading title like “Green and Gold,” when there isn’t anything green about your essay–in fact, I believe it to be quite the opposite.

    • JohnTorinus

      Green and Gold is an old theme of mine that hold that the economy and environment can advance together. It revolves around good management thinking and practices. The meager transportation savings via the seaway pale in comparison to the invasive a damages to the Great Lakes. Closing the Seaway is no-brainer management decision. The political decision? Well, that’s another matter.

      • Gracefull211

        Sorry about the confusion on Green and Gold.

        So how do you suggest the invasive problems go away after it is closed? Prevention is far cheaper than restoration, I think we both know that.

        I am working on a small report regarding society and natural resources and your input may be quite helpful to me.

        Any information on trade, market failure and economics would be helpful–even if they are simply links. Anywhere, that you did your research. I would like to relate it to a sort of tragedy of the commons or the land ethic.

        The ocean-going ships, where do they go and what cargo do they have? Are those mainly import of goods? I would also like to know, maybe on a more personal level–what is your connection, and why you feel so strongly? I know there is reputation to be maintained so perhaps over email?

        Thank you for responding professionally to my original comment, I know I made some likely irritating assumptions.

        My email is Schu7258@vandals.uidaho.edu

        • JohnTorinus

          Check out the work by Dan Egan, a journalist at Journal/Sentinel on sea-going trade on Great Lakes. Only 5% is ocean traffic; 95% is internal traffic. I recall that Egan cited a study from Eastern Michigan University.